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The Smashing Pumpkins are back! After seven years, the acclaimed Pumpkins have returned with Zeitgeist. Featuring the single "Tarantula," this new sound is not to be missed.
Inside the buzzing hive of Smashing Pumpkins' guitars is clearly where bandleader Billy Corgan feels most comfortable. So, after a seven-year hiatus for the short-lived group Zwan and his surprisingly sunny 2005 solo album, Corgan has revived the Pumpkins in all the six-string-spattered shades of emotional gray that made them one of the greatest bands of the alt-rock era. Longtime drummer Jimmy Chamberlin, along with famed boardsmiths Roy Thomas Baker and Terry Date as well as Corgan himself coproduced. Chamberlin also supports mountainous layers of guitar with his fiercest playing. This is a version of the band dedicated to early bare-knuckled form, with a few exceptions: Corgan's grown into a more powerful wordsmith and his lengthy guitar solo explorations of yore are replaced with a trim, barbed textural approach that's ultimately more vicious. That is, until the centerpiece "United States" stretches into an epic punk-metal-informed sibling of Jimi Hendrix's "Machine Gun," with Corgan's strings singing like explosions and twisting metal as he warbles about revolution. Much of this album conjures literal and sonic visions of apocalypse, but there's grace, too, in the blithe grind of the hopeful "That's the Way (My Love Is)" and the melodic "Neverlost." Overall, Corgan's captivating effort to mine both the spirit of these turbulent times and the soul of his defining band is a smashing success. --Ted Drozdowski
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The cynicism is totally understandable. After all, only two musicians who were part of the original band that broke-up in 2000, actually play on the album, singer/songwriter Billy Corgan and drummer Jimmy Chamberlin. The other members, bassist D'arcy and guitarist James Iha declined to join in on the reunion. On a related note, some people are wondering why Corgan is using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" at all. After all, Chamberlin played on Corgan's side project ZWAN, for their lone album "Mary Star of the Sea" (2003). So why not just call this project ZWAN's second album as opposed to the Smashing Pumpkins sixth? (seventh if you include 2000s "Machina II").
So is this CD just a cash-grab from Corgan, who wants to milk the name "Smashing Pumpkins" for all its worth? Perhaps. But while the cynic in me says that may be the case, I would still argue this to be a Smashing Pumpkins album.
For better or worse, Corgan is, and always has been the Smashing Pumpkins. When the Pumpkins were officially "a band" throughout the 90s, in addition to being the band's lead singer/songwriter/guitar player, Corgan would also play over D'arcy and Iha's parts if he wasn't satisfied. Truth of the matter is, Iha and D'arcy were probably less important to the overall sound of the Pumpkins than Noel Redding and Mitch Mitchell were to the sound of the Jimi Hendrix Experience. So if Corgan wants to resurrect the moniker "Smashing Pumpkins," without the others, it's really his right to do so. Since Corgan is the major creative force in whatever project he undertakes, whether it is the Smashing Pumpkins, ZWAN or a Corgan solo album, the name doesn't really matter, as Corgan calls the shots. If he wants to make an album under the Smashing Pumpkins banner, more power to him.
I think a lot of people want this album to bomb. There seems to be an almost irrational hatred towards Corgan, an artist that these same critics were praising a decade ago. I've read a couple reviews and most of them mainly focus on how using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" is intellectually dishonest and call Corgan a has-been, etc.
I say enough already. Give the cue-ball a break. If it's a good album, it's a good album, if it sucks, it sucks; but at least judge "Zeitgeist" on its own merit...which brings me to my review...
"Zeitgeist" is a good album. Is it that best I've ever heard or even the best Smashing Pumpkins album? No, but it's still a good CD.
"Zeitgeist" is probably most comparable to the Pumpkins (official) swan-song "Machina/the Machines of God," in that it's a straight-up rock album, for the most part eschewing the dream-pop, "alternative" leanings of the band's early work. Compared to "Machina," however, "Zeitgeist" sounds less polished and a little more organic. And while there are some ambitious moments on "Zeitgeist," like the nearly ten-minute long "United States," or the lush closing "Pomp and Circumstance," the album overall is less arty, more meat-and-potatoes and to the point than its predecessor.
Fans of the Pumpkins early work, "Gish" (1991) Siamese Dream, (1993) and "Melancholy and the Infinite Sadness" (1995) who didn't like the arena rocking "Machina" may be turned off by the sound and style of "Zeitgeist." However, the new SP album should please those fans that did like "Machina" and should also please rock fans in general. So give ol' baldy a break, forget about the reasons for him using the name "Smashing Pumpkins" and try to go into this CD with an open mind.
Let me say first: I own all studio releases of the Smashing Pumpkins catalog, including a bunch of singles, live bootlegs, and even a t-shirt or two. That being said, this album blows. Over the past few years, it has always taken a stoic dignity to be a Smashing Pumpkins fan (Blinking With Fists, anyone?) and Zeitgeist won't make it any less difficult for die-hard fans. At best, I was hoping for something that recalled the final offering from Billy Corgan: "Untitled" which was a breezily rockin' song with minimal 'staring at my belly button' qualities. Zeitgeist unfortunately heads directly the other way.
Billy Corgan spends most of Zeitgeist convincing people he can rock and, boy howdy, can he ever. "Doomsday Clock", "7 Shades of Black, and "Tarantula" all go directly for the jugular and will no doubt leave hard rock enthusiasts writhing in a bloody mess. Whether or not these songs are relevant in this day and age is another question however. In his endless quest for the rawk grail, Billy Corgan has sacrificed more than a few intelligence hit points. The effort to nail the lowest common denominator will be naked to the discerning fan (the who?) and these three songs easily pass off as a dumbed-down Smashing Pumpkins. The guitar riffs are facile and the songwriting is a step back in melodic construction.
When he's not encouraging overzealous headbanging, Billy Corgan seems intent on testing your gag reflex. (Ewwww, don't go there!) Here's the bad news folks: Billy Corgan still writes lyrics like a moody fifteen year old kid. Morning rain, sunshine, and angels are mentioned without irony, as are souls, blood, and, uh, "dulcet tongues". BC clearly raided his little poetry book for material and the results are painful. Poetry never equals good lyrics (just ask Jewel) because a good vocal melody has to follow its own cadence.
Seriously though. You gotta have real balls if you are forty years old and writing lines like "I love life every day, in each and every way" or "They cannot wait, their love spells hate". Over the past seven years, Billy Corgan has morphed into a creepy Peter Pan figure from a parallel Neverland. He's far too overly romantic for an adult of his age and so starry-eyed about youthful purity that it's getting a little disturbing.
Ah well. If you're a depressed teenager, you'll probably enjoy this CD. Just keep in mind that when Billy Corgan sings "You should call on me baby, 'Cause I'm always there for you", he's really not kidding. Even once you outgrow him, ol' Billy will be right where you left him.
BONUS! Here's a little game for you kids. Match the singer with his personal Sword of Damocles!
1. Michael Stipe _ _ _ _a) car crashes
2. Bono _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ b) puberty
3. Eddie Vedder _ _ _ _c) THE LORD
4. Billy Corgan _ _ _ _ _d) mortality
5. Thom Yorke _ _ _ _ e) earnestness
1. D ; 2. C ; 3. E ; 4. B ; 5. A